Dr. Percy & Lileah Harris Building
The groundbreaking for the new Linn County Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services building will take place on May 18th at 2:00pm at 1020 Sixth Street SE in Cedar Rapids. The future building is being named for Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris, leaders in the areas of public health, education, and civil rights in Linn County.
When Dr. Percy Harris moved to Cedar Rapids in 1957 with his wife Lileah he became the first and only African-American doctor in town. Dr. Harris and his family quickly learned of the subtle racial discrimination that hid in housing practices of the time and they struggled to find adequate housing for their growing family. In 1961 the members of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church voted to sell land owned by the church to the Harrises. The vote and sale were shocking to many at the time, but the courage of the Harrises and the members of St. Paul’s will be forever memorialized in the naming of Linn County’s new Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services building.
The naming of the new building was confirmed by the unanimous vote of Linn County’s Board of Supervisors, led by the efforts Supervisors Stacey Walker and Ben Rogers. “Just as we will remember forever the vote that allowed the Harris family to integrate a neighborhood, we also will remember this vote,” Walker said referring to the Board of Supervisors’ vote. “And in our own little way, here in Linn County, we can give a nod to what this family means to us, and they mean everything.” Walker also spoke of Dr. Harris’s fortitude in the face of discrimination and hatred. “He could’ve left after the rock smashed through the window of his practice. But he stayed, and now I stand on his shoulders.”
Linn County now stands firmly with Walker on the shoulders of Percy and Lileah Harris in the form of the new building that will serve as the main center of public health and education in the county but also as a community center that will feature a gym, a state-of-the-art playground and green spaces. The Harrises cared deeply about the people and community of Linn County, as well as the role public health and education plays in service of the community. This is why people like Walker were so passionate about making sure this building was named after the Harrises.
As someone who pushed for the memory of the Harrises to be honored through the naming of the building, Walker will be a part of the groundbreaking ceremony and invites members of the community to come out and support the Harris family, as well the progress being made to better serve the people of Linn County.